June 5, 2013

Fair Haven United Methodist Church:
Beaten but not defeated


Fair Haven United Methodist Church in Rodanthe is just one of the homes, businesses, and landmarks destroyed by the Outer Banks’ merciless weather these past two years.

Fair Haven has taken its fair share of beatings over time from hurricanes and northeasters, but Hurricane Irene delivered a punch to the little church that has left it struggling to recover.

Originally built in 1948, Fair Haven has been a place in the community for locals and tourists alike to congregate and worship. It was not until 1970 that the church was even renovated and that was simply an addition of bricks to the framework.

When Hurricane Irene came onshore south of Cape Lookout on Aug. 27, 2011 and moved up the sounds, it sent a storm surge of historic proportions over the tri-villages of Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo.  The wall of water was reported to be up to 10 feet in some areas and inundated buildings that had never had flooding before – or that had seen only minor flooding.

One of those buildings was Fair Haven, which sat smack on the ground and didn’t have a chance of escaping to the saltwater inundation.

Water levels reached up to 5 feet inside of the church, destroying everything from pews to the organ and piano. The floors were ruined and the outside of the church was a complete mess. An area that took a massive hit was the church’s foundation. With no ground clearance, the unforgivable Atlantic soaked into the undercarriage of the church, causing it to rot and become weak.

Fair Haven members found themselves in the middle of the massive mess in the tri-villages.  The church was destroyed, and so were the homes of many of the members.

When it came to rebuilding, Ken Wenberg, chairperson of the Church Council said, “We were in line with everybody else.”

They knew that their only viable option was to file insurance claims through FEMA and to start work on the damaged church as soon as possible. What Fair Haven members didn’t know is that they wouldn’t receive an insurance check for the next nine months, which would, in turn, cause the church to sit, mold, soak, and rot in the scorching spring and summer months to come.

After a long wait, Fair Haven was reimbursed a mere $248,000, though the insurance policy had been for $600,000. The insurance money received from FEMA would barely cover the initial repair costs for the church. Such repairs included raising the church and brick removal to begin new construction and development.

A fair number of volunteers were in the area after the storm to help with rebuilding, but by the time Fair Haven received its insurance money, most were gone. The church simply couldn’t attract the volunteers because the hurricane was “old” news and was followed a little more than a year later by the devastating Superstorm Sandy. 

Even if Fair Haven could have received volunteer workers, the church would have had nowhere to house them. The struggle continued and wouldn’t stop there.

Just 17 miles down the road is St. Johns United Methodist church in the village of Avon. That church was also severely damaged from the storm surge from Hurricane Irene. However, St. Johns was able to receive the insurance money quicker and the damage was not as extensive as it was at Fair Haven. With such a fast turnaround and manageable damage, St. Johns was able to receive the volunteer help the church needed. With that momentum, the Avon church was able to able to raise the building and complete work on the repairs by about Easter of 2012.

Even with such vast devastation and tough luck, Fair Haven was not ready to give up.

Pastor Jim Bliss stated that, “We still have to keep the church running. We have to pay the bills, pay for our expenses, and we are still paying our apportionments to the United Methodist Conference.”

Fair Haven was even recognized for being in the top five churches in the district in donations in proportion to its membership.  Larry Ogden, the chairman of the Finance Committee notes, “We are still paying our fair share, no matter the hard work or cost.”
Pastor Jim Bliss realizes that people everywhere are hurting and that members are doing what they can. He mentioned that without the community, the church would be nothing. Pastor Bliss went on to say, “Even with the continuing efforts from people around the island and Dare County, the people couldn’t be any better. They have bent over backwards for us.”

While still short about $200,000, Fair Haven will continue to push and move forward to complete the new church. Even though a lot of money is still needed to finish the job, the church understands and realizes that everyone is doing what they can and that all who have helped will be recognized.

Future fundraising plans are in the making. Past fried chicken and hot dog fundraisers were a great hit. Look for possible quilt sales, yard sales, spaghetti dinners, and even another fried chicken fundraiser in order to help in the goal of $200,000.
The Fair Haven United Methodist Church, as always, welcomes tourists and locals to all events and services.

While the church is in the process of rebuilding and reopening, services are being held at the Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo Community Building every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. If you are interested in participating or helping out the Fair Haven United Methodist Church, don’t hesitate to contact the church by phone at 252- 987-1069 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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